Those who want to criticize the outcome of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s investigation into Planned Parenthood are sort of in an awkward spot for one main reason: Devon Anderson, whose office will prosecute the two anti-abortion activists who used fake IDs to lie their way into a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, is an avowed pro-life Republican.
Of course, some people ignore such inconvenient facts, so now Anderson’s caught in the political crossfire in the war on Planned Parenthood. Late Wednesday night Anderson responded to her critics, which include groups on the radical fringes of the anti-abortion movement that have spun the indictments into a convoluted conspiracy theory.
“The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn’t always lead where you want to go,” Anderson said Wednesday night in a prepared statement. “Anyone who pays attention knows that I’m pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong, but my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law.” Anderson, who was out of state Wednesday, even sat down in a studio to record a statement for local news stations to include in their Wednesday night broadcasts.
Anderson’s comments come after defense attorneys for David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who face second-degree felony charges for using fake California driver’s licenses to gain access to a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, held a press conference on Wednesday asking that the case be presented to another grand jury. “I am not going to do that,” Anderson said. “We have a long standing policy against jury shopping. That means when a grand jury comes back with a decision we like we don’t go and find another one to get the result we want.” Anderson said her office only re-presents cases if new evidence comes to light.
Anderson also directly addressed one of the rumors floated by groups like the American Life League this week: that a Planned Parenthood board member who just so happens to be a new-ish prosecutor in the DA's office somehow skewed the investigation in Planned Parenthood’s favor. “This is simply NOT true,” Anderson said in her statement.
Last August, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged Anderson to investigate Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast after anti-abortion activists claimed undercover footage Daleiden and Merritt shot inside a Houston clinic proved the organization illegally sold fetal tissue for profit. The day after Anderson, who has called the video “disturbing,” announced her office’s investigation into Planned Parenthood, one of her prosecutors notified her that she’s a Planned Parenthood board member. Anderson’s office sent out a press release to reporters across town. In her statement Wednesday, Anderson added: “She is a fairly new prosecutor who would never be assigned to an investigation of this magnitude anyway.”
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This is how Anderson finished her riposte: “As the District Attorney of Harris County, I will never let my personal beliefs conflict with my obligation to follow the laws of our state. In this case, an independent grand jury concluded that laws were broken and indictments followed. The two defendants are represented by counsel and will have their day in court.”
As the Associated Press has pointed out, the cast of characters in this case has met before. In 2013, when she was just three months into office, Anderson oversaw the grand jury that cleared a local abortion doctor named Douglas Karpen. That case was sparked by grisly allegations against Karpen made by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, whose founder Troy Newman is a board member for the group behind the undercover Planned Parenthood videos. At the time, Karpen’s defense attorney Chip Lewis claimed Operation Rescue had doctored photos and paid people to make false and disturbing allegations, which the group denied.
Operation Rescue has responded to this week’s indictments with a straight-up conspiracy theory involving a revenge plot cooked up by Lewis, who, according to them, somehow holds enough influence over a staunch pro-life Republican DA that he convinced her to swing the investigation toward a couple of anti-abortion activists and away from the right’s favorite punching bag. Seriously.
Here’s the latest statement from Sullenger, who it should be noted served time in federal prison for her role in the attempted gasoline bombing of an abortion clinic and co-authored a book with Newman that called for the execution of abortion providers: “I believe Lewis viewed the Planned Parenthood grand jury as an opportunity for revenge. Both the District Attorney and the grand jury prosecutor were unduly influenced by Lewis’ hatred of Operation Rescue.”